Tucked away underneath a bookstore in Ikebukuro lies a true gem, as far as theme cafés go. The Swallowtail Butler Café was certainly a memorable experience, combining dapper presentation, elegant displays and the royal treatment.
With a reservation set for 3:45 p.m. my sister and I were ready to have afternoon tea. The café provides lunch, dinner, tea, and dessert sets for you to choose from. The website has descriptions and pictures of each selection so you can know ahead of time what you’d like to order.
It’s definitely a good idea to go with someone who speaks Japanese. Even though you can request a menu in English, the butlers speak Japanese.
At the bottom of the staircase, a bowing host butler greeted us. A bit early, we sat in the waiting room complete with overlapping ivy, brick walls, and floral arrangements. Then the host butler led us through a crystal-paned door, met by a doorman and the butler who would be waiter for the afternoon.
After the waiter took our bags—to be later stored in a quaint basket underneath our table—we were led to the dining room, walking on a plush red carpet. Yet another butler, standing next to a mirrored china cabinet full of exquisite tea sets, welcomed us.
Swallowtail truly outdid themselves when it came to decoration. I honestly thought we stepped into the Rococo period in history. Either side of the dining room was lined with private booths, filled with overstuffed pillows and framed by beautiful fabric. The center had several intimate tables with claw-footed chairs, all underneath two colossal crystal chandeliers. It’s a good thing we wore sundresses or else we would have felt way out of place.
The butlers really do make you feel like you’re a prince or princess: they push in your chair, kindly go over the menu with you, set whichever plate you’d like right in front of you (at least for tea sets, where you are served a set of three small plates stacked on a gold serving tray), bow whenever leaving your table, pour your tea whenever it needs refilling and suggest which tea would be best with your meal—everything short of feeding you small bites of quiche and looking at you with doting eyes.
It’s no wonder they have an 80-minute limit on reservations, or else I would have stayed for hours upon hours.
Unfortunately no photographs can be taken inside of the dining area, but it certainly made me relax and enjoy the experience more. Also, reservations should be made between one and fourteen days of your intended visit, and the website includes clear English instructions. If you’re here for a while and plan on making many visits to the café, memberships are available.
At the end of our time, my sister and I were given bookmark-sized pieces of paper and a pen to write our wish for the Tanabata Festival, which I thought was a nice touch. On our way out, the butlers collectively thanked us for our visit.